Reintroducing Ourselves, Part One: The Lou Frey Institute and the Florida Joint Center for Citizenship

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Good afternoon, dear friends in civics. Today’s post is response to this positive and supportive piece published in recently in Florida PoliticsAs you are most likely aware, the Lou Frey Institute/FJCC has faced a continual budget issue for the past few years.  The linked Florida Politics post argues for ensuring that the Florida Joint Center for Citizenship is fully funded:

According to the Lou Frey Institute, when teachers use their resources, students score 20-25 percent higher on Florida’s end-of-course civics assessment.

Civics education is at the core of everything we are as a society. It’s about the law and the Constitution. It’s about voting and free speech. It’s about free expression of religion and speaking up freely to the government itself. In other words, it’s about America.

The Legislature requires civics education for millions of Florida children. In light of that, cutting funding for a resource that’s shown long-term significant ability to improve civics education seems to be an unwise and uncivil course of action….

Legislators should not be punishing an outstanding institution that is working hard to right the ship. FJCC conducts civics education under the names of two of Florida’s most civic-minded leaders of the past 40 years. Bob Graham and Lou Frey, a Democrat and a Republican, understood how government can be an instrument for good when used properly and in a limited way to find creative, workable solutions to problems.

They certainly understood the importance of the saying long popular around the Capitol: ‘Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.’ The Florida Joint Center for Citizenship did nothing wrong — but rather does so much right.

It would be a shame to see it, and the children who benefit from its programs, penalized for mistakes and misdeeds unrelated to its fine work and mission.

We greatly appreciate this support. But it’s time, perhaps, for a refresher on the work we do here at LFI/FJCC, a proud partner of the Civics Renewal Network (and be sure to check out their materials!) So, just what do we do? What does this funding  support?

K-12 Civic Education Resources

You may be most familiar with us from our resources, provided to teachers of all grade levels. Every resources or tool we develop is created in response to a request to meet a need and in collaboration with teachers, teacher educators, and social studies/civics professionals. These curricular resources, available on our main website, are 100% free (though registration is required) and include, but are not limited to:

  • Civics in a Snap (CIAS): 15 to 20 minutes ‘mini-lessons’ that address the civic benchmarks and are aligned with Florida’s ELA Standards (and easily adaptable to Common Core and the social studies standards of other states)
  • Students Investigating Primary Sources (SIPS): This series of lessons, which range from 2nd through 12th grade, introduce students to primary sources around a variety of topics. They are intended to be somewhat short and simple to use while still providing some level of rigor. They are aligned with Florida’s ELA and social studies benchmarks (for civics, government, and/or US history)
  • Civics Correlation Guide to Current K-5  Reading Series: This resource is connected to all current K-5 reading series being used in Florida, and illustrates will you will find some level of alignment with civics benchmarks.
  • K-5 Civics Modules: These extended lessons are aligned with civics and ELA benchmarks.
  • 7th Grade Applied Civics Resources: Here, you will find 35 lessons that have been developed to teach, with fidelity, the assessed civics benchmarks. On the page link provided, you will find lesson plans, power points, teacher-oriented content videos, and assessment items, among other things.
  • Civics Connection: Developed in partnership with College Board and the United States Association of Former Members of Congress, the Civics Connection provides video-based, internet-delivered set of lessons that engages former members of Congress to help high school students understand Congress and the issues it faces. Videos and resources are aligned to the AP U.S. Government and Politics curriculum and may be used in other government classes as well.

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Perhaps our most popular resource is Civics360. So what tools do you find on Civics360?

  • Multiple Student Friendly Readings for each assessed benchmark, available in English, Spanish, and Haitian Creole

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  • English language reading guides for each Student Friendly Reading, developed with all levels of readers in mind

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  • Vocabulary Practice Worksheets that use Concept Circles to assist students with understanding key words from the benchmark

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  • A Quizlet tool for vocabulary practice and remediation

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  • Narrated student-oriented videos for every benchmark, with scripts to allow for reading along with the video

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  • Video Viewing Guides for each new video to facilitate engagement

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  • Online quiz practice within each module that reflect best practice in learning and assessment tools that facilitate engagement and retention. We have added clearer explanations and suggestions for reflection for every distractor in each question.

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    • Stand-alone ‘Showing What You Know’ activities for the following benchmarks: 1.3 (Road to Independence), 1.5 (Articles), 1.6 (Preamble), 1.7(Limits on Gov Power), 2.4 (The Bill of Rights), 3.1(Forms of Gov), 3.2 (Systems of Gov), and 3.4 (Federalism). Look for the ‘Showing What You Know’ section on each module page!

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  • Additional civic resources to facilitate learning and review

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  • Organized into 9 Civics Focus Areas that reflect district pacing guides

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The site also includes a 60 question practice assessment that reflects the actual EOC in structure and format.

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Be sure to check out the overview video!

The use of these resources in the middle school civics classroom does, we believe, have something of an impact, especially in conjunction with professional development.

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In Monday’s post, we’ll explore some new directions for LFI/FJCC in the action civics arena and discuss the types of professional development that we can provide!

Commoners on the Rise in South East Europe

Here’s a fascinating sign that commoning is growing as a social and political form: new histories are being written to trace its recent evolution!  The latest example is a new book released by The Institute for Political Ecology in Zagreb, Croatia, has recently published Commons in South East Europe: Case of Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Macedonia. (PDF file)

The book, published in cooperation with the Heinrich Böll Foundation and its office in Sarajevo, is a rigorous yet accessible 170-page introduction to the commons, with an accent on developments in the region of South East Europe (SEE). Its main editor and author is Tomislav Tomašević, with  additional editing by Vedran Horvat and Jelena Milos, augmented by contributions from a number of individual authors and a larger team. 

The Rojc Community Center in Zagreb
The Rojc Community Centre in the City of Pula.

The Institute’s primary goal in preparing the book is to “put this part of Europe….on the landscape of international academic and political debate on the commons.” By synthesizing knowledge about the commons in the region, the book aims to “provide an interpretive and theoretical framework” for understanding “numerous political actions and mobilizations that have emerged across the region of South East Europe, mainly with the ambition of creating the commons or defending and resisting further enclosure of the commons. Since practice has preceded in-depth theoretical understanding in many cases, we felt a responsibility to start bridging this gap.” 

I highly recommend the book. It’s a tight, well-written, and carefully documented overview of a region whose commons have not received enough attention. 

The book starts with a “compact history of the commons” featuring the classical theory of the commons and newer “critical theory.” From these chapters, the book introduces the history of the commons in the region, cases of commons governance there, and significant political struggles against enclosure.

Like most places around the world, there is a rich history of commoning here that is not widely known:

Ethnologist Jadran Kale writes that the common pastures in Croatia and Slovenia were called gmajna, which obviously comes from the German word Gemeine meaning “common.” In the see countries under the Ottoman rule, there was an interesting concept of vakuf, which comes from the Arabic word waqf and was an inalienable endowment in land, building or other asset under Islamic law that could be freely used by all members of the community but in sustainable way. Despite some of the differences between the SEE countries, historian, and philosopher Maria Todorova writes about the regionally specific social form of extended family cooperative, which became well known in international anthropological literature as zadruga. This was an agricultural socio-economic communal organisation based mostly on kinship, with rather democratic governance and common property institutions.

This chapter of the book traces the history of commons following World War II to the present, noting the distinctive history of Yugoslavia as part of the Non-Aligned Movement (neither market-capitalist West nor state-socialist East). The country hosted a variety of self-governance experiments such as workers self-management and “social ownership” of all means of production. Of course, despite the nominal ownership by workers and citizens, decisionmaking remained in the hands of an elite.  

This historical context is important because, as the book notes, “such a legacy is a major obstacle for advocating any forms of commons in the region today....Even words like ‘cooperative (zadruga), which are not controversial in Western Europe, are considered insulting and hostile by many people in the region” because of the previously mandated agricultural coops in socialist Yugoslavia.

With the past either vilified or bathed in nostalgia for a more stable time, it can be hard for contemporary minds to grasp the realities of peer governance. Would-be commoners in the SEE region must navigate the gap between the repressive totalitarian past, the bloody civil strife of the 1990s, and the fierce neocapitalist capitalist exploitation that has occurred under the auspices of representative democracy.

As the authors explain, the latter resulted in “de-industrialization, high unemployment and increasing poverty” while also disabling the instruments of direct and participatory democracy” that might have allowed citizens to control their elected governments.

So in grappling with the problems today, people in South East Europe confront problems of language, memories, and mindsets. “The neoliberal transition made many people in newly independent countries of South East Europe nostalgic about socialist Yugoslavia, while nationalist political elites still make some critical but honest evaluation of the self-governance practices impossible.” 

However, over the past twenty years, there have been important theoretical elaborations of self-governance advanced by Elinor Ostrom and Yugoslav economist Branko Horvat. The book also notes the landmark work by the working group within Balkan Forum of the 2013 Subversive Festival. (See The Balkan Forum, a 2014 book by edited by Danijela Dolenec and others.)

Most commons in the South East Europe region tend to take two forms -- communities of users who have organized themselves in various sectors (health, education, culture, housing) and people struggling against enclosure -- “the commodification, privatization and statification of resources that should be accessible to all.”

Significantly, activist commoners have often embraced the governance practices of commoning in their struggles. In fighting to protect Varšavska Street against the construction of a shopping mall in downtown Zagreb, for example, and in student fights against the commodification of the education system, activist occupations self-governed themselves as commons. 

There is much more in this book worth checking out – the case studies of pasturing commons, the Rojc Community Centre in the City of Pula, and the Luke water supply system in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The book also chronicles the struggles against enclosure in the region, such as the effort to protect Srđ Hill above the City of Dubrovnik from construction of a massive, upscale golf course, villas and hotels.

While there is clearly a commons movement in South East Europe, the authors of this book are candid in admitting that “commons theory, discourse and practice occur within a well-connected but still rather small community of scholars, activists and practitioners, which makes its impact limited. Expanding the commons movement in South East Europe and increasing the amount of research on commons, struggles over commons and governance of commons remains a challenge for the future.”

The report can be downloaded as a pdf file here. 

call for papers: Civic Politics and Global Order

“Civic Politics and Global Order”: A Special Issue of The Good Society: A Journal Of Civic Studies

More than a century ago, US President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress to declare a state of war with Germany—a radical step in pursuit of a radical objective. Seeking “no conquest” and expecting “no indemnities” for any life or treasure lost, Americans, Wilson declared, would fight “for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own governments, for the rights and liberties of small nations, for a universal dominion of right by such a concert of free peoples as shall bring peace and safety to all nations and make the world itself at last free.”

The “concert of free peoples” that emerged from the Great War’s ashes—the League of Nations— never gave adequate international expression to such democratic civic ideals, nor could it prevent a second global conflict. Yet it laid grounds for a complex of institutions—among them the World Bank, United Nations, NATO, and European Union—that for decades after World War II embodied for millions of people the possibility of an increasingly stable and just world order. Now the prestige of that order has reached a historic low, and its continued existence has come into doubt.

Simultaneously, however, citizens and societies worldwide continue to seek ways of achieving Wilson’s essential vision: a vision of self-governing communities collaborating, despite conflicting interests, on the otherwise impossible task of creating a safe and just world.

Aware of such strivings and persuaded of their importance, the editorial board of The Good Society invites submissions from scholars and practitioners exploring the relationship between civic politics and global order. What interests do self-governing communities at the national, subnational, or transnational level have in maintaining international or global order? What normative commitments are required, and what independent and collaborative actions are advisable, to advance such interests while maintaining due regard for divergent local, cultural, and historical contexts?
What strategies and tactics—proven, novel, or forgotten—are ripe for implementation, experimentation, or rehabilitation? Above all hangs the question: Is there a regulative ideal of global order that self-governing aspirants and civic agents should adopt? If so, how can it be formulated, disseminated, theorized, and realized in a manner that respects the plural as well as universal interests and experience of humanity?

The editorial board invites papers of 6,000 to 8,000 words that address the questions above, as well as other relevant questions emerging from serious inquiry into the character of a good society and the conditions for achieving and maintaining it. Please submit papers by May 1, 2019 to: http://www.editorialmanager.com/gs/default.aspx

For more information regarding this call, write Trygve Throntveit, editor, tthrontv@umn.edu

The Good Society is the flagship journal for the interdisciplinary (between disciplines) and transdisciplinary (beyond disciplines) field of Civic Studies. For more information on Civic Studies, please visit http://civicstudies.org/about/ .

Finalists Announced for 2019 All-America City Award

Is your city on the path to becoming an awarded All-America City? The National Civic League, one of our partner organizations, recently announced the finalists for the prestigious All-America City Award! This year’s award theme seeks to recognize the communities working to improve health equity in their cities. These finalists exemplify some of the most impactful and innovative civic engagement efforts happening in our cities, who are working to address local community issues around health equity. Winners will be announced the 70th Annual All-America City Awards and Conference at the end of June. You can read the announcement below and find the original version of this on the NCL site here.


2019 All-America City Award Finalists

Announcing This Years’ Finalists! These 20 communities get the chance to be named an All-America City

The All-America City awards are an awards ceremony and networking event unlike any other! Through concrete examples, interactive discussions, and finalist presentations – you will walk away with the knowledge, skills, contacts, and inspiration you need to better strengthen your community.

The award, given to 10 communities each year, celebrates and recognizes neighborhoods, villages, towns, cities, counties, tribes and regions that engage residents in innovative, inclusive and effective efforts to tackle critical challenges.

2019 All-America City Award Finalists

in alphabetical order by city:

Battle Creek, Michigan

Clinton, North Carolina

Cornelius, Oregon

Doral, Florida

Dubuque, Iowa

Edinburg, Texas

El Paso, Texas

Gothenburg, Nebraska

Hallandale Beach, Florida

Livingston County, New York

Millcreek, Utah

Mission, Texas

Ontario, California

Pasco, Washington

Rancho Cordova, California

Rock Hill, South Carolina

San Antonio, Texas

Sumter, South Carolina

West Hollywood, California

Wichita, Kansas

“These finalist communities are building local capacity to solve problems and improve their quality of life. The National Civic League is honored to recognize these communities, and views their efforts as critical in addressing the challenge to communities issued by the 1968 Kerner Commission, ‘to make good the promises of American democracy to all citizens – urban and rural, white, black, Spanish surname, American Indians, and every minority group.’” – The National Civic League’s President, Doug Linkhart

You can find the original version of this announcement on the NCL site at www.nationalcivicleague.org/2019-finalists/.

Empathy and Justice

My remarks at a conference entitled “Empathy …. or Ways of Caring,” Harvard Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, March 15, 2019. (Apologies for some cutting and pasting from previous posts.)

Doris Sommer mentioned that Barack Obama popularized the notion of an “empathy deficit.” In a 2004 interview with Oprah Winfrey, while he was still a State Senator, Obama said:

I often say we’ve got a budget deficit that’s important, we’ve got a trade deficit that’s critical, but what I worry about most is our empathy deficit. When I speak to students, I tell them that one of the most important things we can do is to look through somebody else’s eyes. People like bin Laden are missing that sense of empathy. That’s why they can think of the people in the World Trade Center as abstractions. They can just crash a plane into them and not even consider, “How would I feel if my child were in there?”

Here Obama links empathy to moral judgment. In a 2006 commencement address, he also implies that the level of empathy in a society as a whole is a precondition of social justice. Our “empathy deficit” explains why we accept that “Americans … sleep in the streets and beg for food,” that “inner-city children …. are trapped in dilapidated schools,” and that “innocent people [are] being slaughtered and expelled from their homes half a world away .”[2]

To suggest that this argument is problematic, I would quote then-President Obama in Jerusalem on March 21, 2013:

I — I’m going off script here for a second, but before I — before I came here, I — I met with a — a group of young Palestinians from the age of 15 to 22. And talking to them, they weren’t that different from my daughters. They weren’t that different from your daughters or sons.

I honestly believe that if — if any Israeli parent sat down with those kids, they’d say, I want these kids to succeed. (Applause.) I want them to prosper. I want them to have opportunities just like my kids do. (Applause.) I believe that’s what Israeli parents would want for these kids if they had a chance to listen to them and talk to them. (Cheers, applause.) I believe that. (Cheers, applause.)

It is not so much the speech as the applause that I find problematic, because I believe that the Israeli electorate supports policies that are unjust, and their political behavior is compatible with a fair amount of actual empathy.

The word “empathy” is a modern coinage. It is not attested before 1895, and it gained its current meaning only in 1946. Many wise people have thought about moral psychology and justice without using this word at all, so we should consider whether it does us any good.*

I’d posit the following definitions:

  • Empathy: Feeling a similar emotion in response to someone else’s emotional state. Your friend is mad at her boss because he treated her unfairly. That makes you mad at her boss. Your anger is probably different in texture and intensity from hers, but it’s the same in kind, an imperfect reproduction of her mental state.
  • Sympathy: Feeling a supportive emotion in response to someone else’s emotional state that is not the same as that person’s original emotion. She is mad at her boss, so you become sorry for her, or committed to fairness, or sad about the state of the world, or nostalgic for better times–but not angry at her boss. Then you are sympathetic. (NB You can be both sympathetic and empathetic if you feel several emotions.)
  • Compassion: A species of the genus sympathy. Another person’s negative emotion causes you to have a specific supportive feeling that is not the same as her emotion: you sincerely wish that her distress would end without blaming her for it.
  • Justice: A situation or decision characterized by fairness, goodness, rightness, etc. (These are contestable ideas and may be in tension with each other.) The English word “just”–like dikaios in classical Greek–can be applied either to a situation or to a person who cares and aims for justice.

There is an old and rich debate about which character traits and subjective states are best suited to pursuing justice. One answer is that you should be a just person, one who tries to decide what is fair or best for all (all things considered), who desires that outcome, and who works to pursue it.

A different response is that we are not well suited to defining and pursuing justice itself. We lack the cognitive and motivational qualities that would allow us to grasp justice and reliably act on it.

Justice is an abstract idea that takes the form of words: it is discursive. According to a mainstream view in contemporary moral psychology, we first form emotional opinions about concrete situations and then we select the ideas that will justify those opinions, post-hoc. Justice doesn’t guide us; it justifies and excuses us.**

In that case, it might be better to cultivate emotions, such as empathy, sympathy, compassion–or loyalty, aversion to harm, or commitment to specific rules–in order to deliver more just outcomes, all things considered.

In her remarks, Marina Amelina noted that developed countries built social welfare systems between ca. 1880 and 1970. That could because their publics became more empathetic. But it also be because less-wealthy people gained power and used it to protect themselves. Equal power plus self-interest might generate justice more reliably than empathy. John Rawls famously modeled justice as the decisions that self-interested parties would make if they were rendered perfectly equal by a Veil of Ignorance that blocked them from knowing their own situations. In the real world, we can approximate the Veil of Ignorance by assuring that everyone has equal rights and powers. This is a clear alternative to the view that justice should be built on empathy.

Paul Bloom and others argue that empathy is particularly unreliable guide to justice, more likely to mislead than to inform. For instance, Donald Trump can make people feel empathy for a small number of individuals whose families were allegedly victimized by undocumented aliens, and then use that emotion to build support for deporting millions of people who have harmed no one. A famous example is Edmund Burke’s outrage at the mistreatment of Marie Antoinette, which obscured any concern for the countless people tortured, executed, or “disappeared” by the ancien regime that she represented. (By the way, I respect Burke–and I don’t think it was fair or smart to execute the Queen–but this passage is still a good example of misplaced empathy.)

Empathy can also substitute for justice, as the transcript from Jerusalem that I quoted earlier suggests. You congratulate yourself for feeling some version of a suffering person’s emotion and excuse yourself from fixing the problem.

Compassion may be better than empathy. Instead of feeling the same emotion as the other person, you feel a combination of beneficence and equanimity that may be a more reliable guide to acting well. But it’s possible that compassion only clears the deck for reasoning about what you should actually do.

Other candidates for emotional states that might be more reliable than empathy include solidarity, responsiveness, openness, and intellectual humility.

For its part, justice can be emotional. You can feel a powerful urge to make the world more just. That is helpful insofar as the feeling motivates you and insofar as people obtain genuine insights from our emotions; but it is dangerous because the emotion of desiring justice can be misplaced. You can feel great about improving the world when you are actually harming it.

In the end, I think we must wrestle with these questions:

  1. Can we human beings reason explicitly about justice in ways that improve upon our strictly affective reactions to particular situations? Can we put into words what is good or fair, and why, and make ourselves accountable for that position? Or is this always special-pleading, mere rhetorical justification for what we have already decided based on our emotions?
  2. Does an improvement in social justice indicate an improvement in empathy?
  3. If we should cultivate an emotional stance toward others as a buttress of—or an alternative to—justice, should that stance be empathy, or rather compassion, responsiveness, solidarity, humility, or something else?

*Buddhism is perhaps most widely associated with the virtue that Obama calls “empathy”—in his terms, “the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes; to see the world through those who are different from us” (Northwestern Commencement speech). But Emily McRae notes that “empathy” has no direct translation in Sanskrit or other languages that have been used to express the Indo-Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Key words from that tradition are better translated as “compassion” and “sympathetic joy.” McRae derives a theory of empathy from Buddhist texts, but she focuses on phrases like “exchanging self and other” rather than any single word that corresponds to “empathy.” McRae, “Empathy, Compassion, and ‘Exchanging Self and Other’ in Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Ethics” in Heidi Maibom , ed., The Handbook of Philosophy of Empathy (Routledge, 2017).

**Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion(New York: Vintage, 2012), pp. 27-51; Ann Swidler, Talk of Love: How Culture Matters (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 2001); pp. 147-8; Leslie Paul Thiele, The Heart of Judgment: Practical Wisdom, Neuroscience, and Narrative Cambridge University Press, 2006) and Jesse Graham, Brian A. Nosek, Brian A., Jonathan Haidt, Ravi Iyer, Spassena Koleva, & Peter H. Ditto, “Mapping the Moral Domain. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 101, no. 2  (2011)., p. 368)

See also: empathy, sympathy, compassion, justice; empathy: good or bad?; “Empathy” is a new word. Do we need it?; how to think about other people’s interests: Rawls, Buddhism, and empathy

NIFI Events Happening During Next Week’s NWOC

In case you haven’t heard, next week kicks off the second annual National Week on Conversation (NWOC), an intentional week dedicated to elevating conversations across the nation to build deeper connections and relationships within our society. Our friends at the National Issues Forums Institute – an NCDD member organization, shared several opportunities happening during NWOC that we want to encourage our network to participate in! During NWOC, there will be a full week of Common Ground for Action (CGA) deliberative online forums specifically for college students and on April 10th will be Deliberation Day, which will include 4 CGA forums back to back to encourage people to get talking together. You can read the announcement below and explore the upcoming events on NIFI’s site here.


NWOC Deliberation Day and NWOC College-student CGA Forums

College student CGA forum series
Like the idea of having your students deliberate but want to expose them to views and voices beyond your campus? Join us for a week of Common Ground for Action (CGA) online forums with students across the country deliberating on the new NIF issue guide “A House Divided: What Would We Have to Give Up to Get the Political System We Want?”  Forums will be organized to maximize geographic and campus diversity.

Dates and times: Monday April 8th @ 5p ET/2p PST; Tuesday April 9th @ 10a ET/7a PST; Thursday April 11th @ 7p ET/4p PST; Friday April 12th @ 12:30p ET/9:30a PST; Saturday April 13th @ 4p ET/1p PST:

For more information and to register: https://www.nifi.org/en/events/college-student-house-divided-cga-national-week-conversation

Deliberation Day
Join us on Deliberation Day, Wednesday April 10th for four back-to-back Common Ground for Action (CGA) online deliberative forums during the National Week of Conversation.  In each forum, we’ll be talking about the new NIFI issue guide “A House Divided: What Would We Have to Give Up to Get the Political System We Want?”. Forums start at: 10am ET, 12:30p ET, 4p ET, 9p ET.

If you’re new to online deliberation, Common Ground for Action is a simple, but sophisticated platform for deliberation that allows small groups to learn more about an issue, examine different options for action, weigh tradeoffs, and identify common ground, all with beautiful visuals that let participants see their conversation evolve in real time. It’s free to use.

For more information and to register:

April 10th @ 10a ET/7a PST: https://www.nifi.org/en/events/deliberation-day-cga-forum-1-house-divided

April 10th @ 12:30p ET/9:30a PST: https://www.nifi.org/en/events/deliberation-day-cga-forum-2-house-divided

April 10th @ 4p ET/1p PST: https://www.nifi.org/en/events/deliberation-day-cga-forum-3-house-divided

April 10th @ 9p ET/6p PST: https://www.nifi.org/en/events/deliberation-day-cga-forum-4-house-divided

Find all the upcoming NIFI events at www.nifi.org/en/events.

Online D&D Events This Week and More About NWOC

This week’s roundup features webinars from NCDD member orgs Living Room Conversations, National Issues Forums Institute, and Bridge Alliance, from Campus Compact, as well as, a reminder to consider hosting or joining one of the many events happening during the upcoming National Week of Conversation, from April 5th -13th.

NCDD’s online D&D event roundup is a weekly compilation of the upcoming events happening in the digital world related to dialogue, deliberation, civic tech, engagement work, and more! Do you have a webinar or other digital event coming up that you’d like to share with the NCDD network? Please let us know in the comments section below or by emailing me at keiva[at]ncdd[dot]org, because we’d love to add it to the list!


Online D&D Events From: LRC, NIFI, Bridge Alliance, Campus Compact, Nat’l Week of Conversations

Living Room Conversations webinar – Free Speech, Hate Speech and Campus Life

Wednesday, March 27th
1:30 pm Pacific, 4:30 pm Eastern

Join us for a free online (using Zoom) Living Room Conversation on the topic of Free Speech, Hate Speech and Campus Life. Please see the conversation guide for this topic. Some of the questions explored include: What norms do you follow when expressing your opinion? I.e. do you hold back, attempt to persuade others, “let it fly” or ??? What do you consider hate speech? What rules or norms should there be at colleges and universities?

REGISTER: www.livingroomconversations.org/event/online-living-room-conversation-free-speech-hate-speech-and-campus-life/

Living Room Conversations webinar – Social Equity

Saturday, March 30th
11:30 am Pacific, 2:30 pm Eastern

Join us for a free online (using Zoom) Living Room Conversation on the topic of Social Equity. Please see the conversation guide for this topic. Some of the questions explored include: What does the concept of “social equity” mean to you? Are there “social equity” concerns in your community? If so, what are they? If not, should there be? When it comes to achieving social equity, do your values line up with the redistribution of wealth and resources? Is everyone entitled to a certain quality and standard of living?

REGISTER: www.livingroomconversations.org/event/online-living-room-conversation-social-equity-2/

National Issues Forums Institute – March CGA Forum Series: America’s Energy Future

Saturday, March 30th
4 pm Pacific, 7 pm Eastern

Join us in March for a Common Ground for Action forum on “America’s Energy Future” We’ll be talking about how to fix our broken political system in three different options: (1) Produce the Energy We Need to Maintain Our Way of Life: We must produce more of the energy we need, while making sure that as much imported energy as possible comes from stable, friendly countries, such as Canada; (2) Put More Renewables and Clean Energy Sources into the Mix: We need to find and use more sources of renewable energy. And, because we will inevitably have to move to renewables at some point, we should start down that path now; and (3) Find Ways to Use Less Energy: Energy produced by fossil fuels will, eventually, run out and, in the meantime, we continue to do great damage to the air, water, and earth that sustain us. If you haven’t had a chance to review the issue guide, you can find a downloadable PDF here.

REGISTER: www.nifi.org/en/events/march-cga-forum-series-america%E2%80%99s-energy-future

Bridge Alliance #DemocracyChat [on Twitter]

Tuesday, April 2nd
2 pm Pacific, 5 pm Eastern

On April 2nd, @BrdgAllianceUS will ask supporters questions on Youth Engagement. The event, titled #DemocracyChat, will give you and anybody else who is interested in this topic to have the opportunity to connect with Bridge Alliance leaders and become part of the conversation. So make sure to follow @BrdgAllianceUS and use the hashtag #DemocracyChat once the questions are revealed next Tuesday at 5pm Eastern.

Campus Compact webinar – Integrating Civic Outcomes Across a Major or Program: Curriculum design and mapping for civic learning

Thursday, April 4th
12 pm Pacific, 3 pm Eastern

In this webinar attendees will focus on identifying, articulating, and mapping civic learning and developmental outcomes (civic identity, civic-mindedness, civic agency, civic literacy, intercultural competency, etc.) for their program of study or major. A curriculum map is a tool to assure the content of a program of study or major is being presented and assessed, all content is linked to learning goals (e.g. institutional, accreditor), and that content is sufficient to reach learning and developmental goals. A curriculum mapping exercise can show gaps in learning, overlaps in content, and indicate where weaknesses or opportunities can and should be addressed.

REGISTER: https://compact.org/event/integrating-civic-outcomes-across-major-program-curriculum-design-mapping-civic-learning/

National Week of Conversation Happening April 5th-13th

NWOC is a bold annual occasion when people with diverse perspectives #ListenFirst to understand. Through in-person and virtual conversations exploring any topic of interest, people of all stripes intentionally convene with the goal of mending our frayed social fabric and revitalizing America together. We are encouraging everyone and anyone to reach out to neighbors, family and friends, and form your own conversations. To connect with this sweeping cross country movement, you can host or join a conversation during NWOC 2019, April 5-13. Use the #ListenFirst hashtag to invite others!

LEARN MORE: http://ncdd.org/29312

IRAA 3.0: Second Look Review for Adults

Today I am testifying on behalf of the Second Look Amendment Act of 2019, sometimes dubbed IRAA 3.0. The initial IRAA, the Incarceration Amendment Act, was designed to provide post-sentencing review to those who committed crimes as juveniles and were given life or near-life sentences. IRAA 2.0 extended eligibility and clarified some issues in the original bill, and the current incarnation is designed to provide that same post-sentencing review to those convicted of crimes from 18-25 years old.

I represent the Georgetown Pivot Program—a reentry program based at Georgetown University that began last year. I am also a DC resident, residing in Ward 4, and I support the Second Look Amendment Act.

No discussion of DC sentencing review can proceed without a few basic facts:

  1. The US has the highest incarceration rate in the world. We have less than 5% of the world’s population and more than 20% of the world’s prisoners.[1]
  2. Most of the march towards mass incarceration is driven by state-level policies rather than federal law. 83% of prisoners are incarcerated in state prisons and local jails.[2]
  3. DC has the highest incarceration rate of any state or territory in the US: yes, we have a higher incarceration rate than Louisiana, Oklahoma, Mississippi, or Georgia. When it comes to imprisoning our citizens, DC is #1.[3]
  4. The DC Council has repeatedly chosen policies that enhance sentences in a way that increases the number of our fellow citizens who are incarcerated, despite evidence that this is not making DC’s residents any safer. At the current incarceration rates, there is ample evidence that reducing sentencing at the margin would decrease crime.[4]
  5. Today, our crime rate is near its fifty-five year low—and a small recent uptick should not be cause to repeat the disastrous policies of the 70s, 80s, and 90s that got us our #1 status.
  6. Instead, we should work to reduce sentences across the board—we must become significantly less punitive or else continue to lose our fellow citizens to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.[5]
  7. The Second Look bill currently being considered does this in a very small way. Its greatest weakness is that it countenances post-sentencing modifications ONLY for those whose crimes were committed before the age of 25, on the theory that the young adult brain is still developing. However, we really ought to offer post-sentencing modifications for everyone regardless of age since we are assessing rehabilitation, not the degree of culpability.[6]
  8. The American Law Institute, an association of law faculty that maintain and amend the Model Penal Code, updated the MPC with Second Look post-sentencing review in 2017 in light of the inadequacies of parole board reviews. It behooves us to follow them, at least for those offenders who were 18-25 years old at the time of their offence.[7]
  9. A Second Look is an evaluation of rehabilitation: it gives us an opportunity to live up to the ideal of prisons as correctional rather than merely retributive. Punishment is—and must be—predicated on the idea that the offender, like the victim, is a member of our community who will have the opportunity to be restored to full membership.

At the Pivot Program we have 15 Pivot Fellows studying entrepreneurship alongside a traditional liberal arts curriculum, including two IRAA 1.0 clients. Through my work with the Georgetown Prisons and Justice Initiative, the Prison Scholars Program, and the Paralegal Program I’ve had the opportunity to work with several IRAA 1.0 clients, as well as many who would qualify for post-sentencing review under the Second Look legislation.

We are incredibly lucky to have started our programs at around the same time that the IRAA clients were returning to DC—and I can report that our programs both inside and outside the Jail are desperate for more participants like the ones that IRAA has granted us. 

Kareem McCraney, Charles Fantroy, Tyrone Walker, Halim Flowers, Troy Burner, Mustafa Zulu, and Momolu Stewart: I have been working with incarcerated students for almost a decade and these are among the best students I have taught in all that time. But we are just as excited to work with students who would qualify  for review under the Second Look Act. In particular I would highlight the current mentors on the Young Men Emerging unit at DC’s Correctional Treatment Facility: Joel Caston and Michael Woody.

Michael Woody and Joel Caston with Savannah Sellers

These men seem exceptional to all who meet them, and they are truly excellent students and teachers. But the truth is that there hundreds more like them among our fellow citizens imprisoned in the FBOP—men and women whose talents are currently unavailable to us here in the District, and slated to be wasted for decades longer, because they received very long sentences for crimes committed after their 18th birthday, yet while they were still too young to have the full cognitive capacities of adulthood.

Pivot Challenges and Needs

I’d like to share sixteen success stories from the Pivot Program, of the Pivot Fellows who have found excellent internships and developed their writing and reasoning skills alongside their new ventures. There will be plenty of time for that when the cohort has finished, and I look forward to sharing that data and those narratives with the relevant committees. 

Charles Fantroy and Tyrone Walker

Instead, today, I want to focus on one of our failures, one of our successes, and the lessons we have learned. Let me start with a failure: Charles Fantroy. Charles was one of the initial round of IRAA 1.0 clients who received excellent representation from James Ziegler and was released in January. Charles had attended Georgetown classes at the DC Jail (CTF) and received glowing endorsements from our faculty, including from me. He has great promise as an author and filmmaker, and we had every hope that he would build a new venture out of those talents and interests.

However, his release plan involved moving in with his brother. The Fantroy family grew up on Alabama Avenue in Southeast DC, but around the turn of the millennium they found themselves pushed out of the District and into Maryland: Severn and Glen Burnie. Charles received a DC Identification Card from MORCA and so was able to access our program, but his commute from Severn was arduous, expensive, and he was frequently late. After only a month-and-a-half, Charles decided that the best way for him to manage his reentry was to leave the Pivot Program and take permanent, unsubsidized employment on the night shift with a plumbing supply company. This is in a sense a victory for workforce development programs like Project Empowerment, but for Pivot it feels like a failure: he was unable to complete the program of study or move on to full-time employment in his film making internship. His Georgetown credentials and personal connections were enough to secure him work in a warehouse—important work to be sure, but an under-utilization of scarce human capital. While we are happy for him, I continue to believe that his talent and drive are being undervalued because of his record.

Now let me say a few brief words about one of our successes, who is testifying today on his own behalf. Tyrone Walker was released only a month prior to Charles Fantroy, also as a result of IRAA 1.0, and came to join our program soon afterwards. He was also a student of mine inside of CTF, and a mentor on YME. Like Chalres, he deserved and received my highest endorsement at post sentencing review and was released soon afterwards. With support from his sister and daughter he has been able to maintain a position as one of our program’s stars, including in his internship today at the Justice Policy Institute. Their families also have much in common: many members of the Walker family were also displaced to Maryland in the years since he went to prison, and Tyrone also faces significant housing insecurity while he seeks his own home in the District. Only a few things distinguish them: Tyrone was just a tad luckier, just a small bit better-equipped to handle reentry and has slightly better-resourced family members. Returning citizens should not have to depend so much on luck and family capital for their success.

Tyrone now has considerable experience guiding returning citizens in their first days and weeks after release, but I believe that the return from prison should not be something that the best-of-the-best clients only succeeds at half the time. When the program ends I expect to see a feeding frenzy of recruiters in both the profit and non-profit sectors pursuing him as an unsubsidized employee. We need an army of men (and women!) like Tyrone to support each returning citizen, not just from IRAA and Second Look but for ordinary cases as well.

Drawing from that experience, I want to point to three challenges that will continue to plague returning citizens in DC, whether from IRAA-style post-sentencing reviews or the 5,000 citizens returning to the District every year:

  1. Returning citizens still face significant obstacles to employment for crimes that are unrelated to the types of work they pursue. The stigma of incarceration is still far too great, and the best evidence suggests that merely “banning the box” without other supports extends this stigma to all young Black and Latino men. Thus we simply MUST find ways to create fewer returning citizens by incarcerating fewer of our fellow citizens in the first place, and to create positive employment signals for returning citizens that will combat this stigma. 
  2. Housing insecurity is a major problem for returning citizens generally—and this has hit the Pivot Program in predictable ways, with several promising fellows losing significant class and internship time as formerly-secure housing situations became unsettled. The Pivot Fellows were DC residents before they were shipped off to the Federal Bureau of Prisons but they have returned to a rapidly and severely gentrifying city. Often their reentry plans require them to reside with family members who have left the District in the intervening years—and this effectively outsources our obligations to Virginia and Maryland. Allowing former DC residents to secure residency status through MORCA so that they can continue to access DC’s reentry programs while temporarily residing outside of the District is the least we can do for them. As I have tried to show, we otherwise risk losing some extraordinary human capital to other localities.
  3. Finally, our program is highly dependent on the $10/hr subsidized training wage from DC DOES which supports both the Pivot Fellows’ education and work experience. The training wage is designed to be unpalatably low so as to incentive the search for full-time unsubsidized employment, which isn’t fully compatible with our program’s goal of keeping Pivot fellows engaged over the whole ten month program. At Georgetown we subsidize these stipends to raise the effective hourly rate to $15/hour. It would be helpful to our work if they were able to cover a living wage either as a base rate or as an incentive bonus for consistent performance. While we are happy to subsidize the DC DOES stipend in this cohort,  continuing to do so is a significant private philanthropy burden that will hamper our ability to scale. If DC is serious about raising the minimum wage, then training wages like those offered by Pivot and Project Empowerment must rise as well.

DC is in an enviable position: we are poised to do the right thing for all our fellow citizens. We should pass Second Look, end a significant injustice, and reap the dividends. Thank you for your time.

Footnotes (aka The Receipts)


[1] Peter Wagner and Alison Walsh, States of Incarceration: The Global Context 2016, available at https://www.prisonpolicy.org/global/2016.html

[2] Wendy Sawyer and Peter Wagner, Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2019, available at https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/pie2019.html

[3] Peter Wagner and Alison Walsh, States of Incarceration: The Global Context 2016, available at https://www.prisonpolicy.org/global/2016.html

[4] James Forman Jr., Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America. (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2017) and Daniel Roodman, The Impacts of Incarceration on Crime, Open Philanthropy Project 2017, available at: https://www.openphilanthropy.org/files/Focus_Areas/Criminal_Justice_Reform/The_impacts_of_incarceration_on_crime_10.pdf

[5] Urban Institute, A Matter of Time, available at: http://apps.urban.org/features/long-prison-terms/a_matter_of_time_print_version.pdf

[6] Gideon Yaffe, The Age of Culpability: Children and the Nature of Criminal Responsibility. (Cambridge: Oxford University Press, 2018)

[7] Richard Frase, Second Look Provisions in the Proposed Model Penal Code Revisions, 21 Fed. Sentencing R. 194 (2009), available at http://scholarship.law.umn.edu/faculty_articles/522 and Meghan J. Ryan, Taking Another Look at Second-Look Sentencing, 81 Brook. L. Rev. (2015). Available at: http://brooklynworks.brooklaw.edu/blr/vol81/iss1/4

what sustains free speech?

My remarks last week at a small conference on “Tolerance, Citizenship, and the Open Society” at the Tisch College of Civic Life …

We human beings did not evolve to take a broad view of justice, to collect information from diverse sources, to reason impartially, and to be responsive to other people who differ from us. These acts do not come naturally to us.

But we are capable of building prosthetics. For instance, we did not evolve with the skill to tell time precisely, which is now useful for coordinating behavior in mass societies. So we wear wristwatches, hang clocks on our walls, and display the current time on most of our electronic devices. A clock or a watch is a prosthetic device that extends our natural capacities.

An invention (in this case, a clock) will not suffice on its own. Many people must use it. That requires some kind of system that creates incentives or requirements for producing the devices and using them widely. A market with supply and demand can work; so can a state mandate. Either one is an institution.

We have created institutions that extend our ability to deliberate about justice. An example was the metropolitan daily newspaper from ca. 1910 to ca. 1990. Always very far from perfect, it nevertheless delivered important, mind-broadening information to about 80% of Americans every day in the year 1970. They (and advertisers) paid for the local press because it also provided sports, classified ads, comics, and whole package of goods–but with the most important news on the front cover, where it could not be missed.

A university is another institution that supports inquiry and discussion about important matters. It is more complex than a newspaper. Its revenues may include tuition, government aid, grants, gifts, intellectual property transfers, and clinical fees, among other sources. The goods it produces include skills and knowledge of value to each learner; virtues and skills that have public value; the pure public goods of basic knowledge and culture; monetizable forms of knowledge, such as patents; services, such as meals, art exhibitions, and clinical care; and credentials and entry to the middle class.

The skeptical view of such institutions is that their underlying economic motivations determine the ideas and discussions that they support. For example, newspapers are owned by tycoons or faceless corporations that just want to maximize profits. Universities sell social stratification and individual advancement. This analysis always merits attention and explains some of the phenomena. But it is one-sided, because these institutions are also the result of human artisanship–of people creating the means to sustain better thinking at a large scale.

For instance, the metropolitan daily newspaper can be interpreted as the product of the media industry, but it should also be seen as the product of the press. Traditional newspapers tried to distinguish the two by separating the newsroom from the publisher’s suite, but those subsystems were connected. For instance, plenty of publishers were former shoe-leather reporters. Their motives were mixed. That is good because mixed motives produce scalable public goods.

Too simple a theory would yield two predictions about newspapers that both proved incorrect. In 1900, you might predict that millions of people would never spend their own money voluntarily to purchase relatively impartial and challenging daily news. But they did–in part because they were also buying comics and box scores. In 1970, you might predict that we would always have a press, because it meets a social need. But the press has collapsed (half as many people work as reporters today compared to ten years ago) because the Internet has killed its business model.

As with other forms of artisanship, nothing is for certain. Ingenuity, commitment, and perseverance are required. The institutional structures that support broadened understanding depend on intentional work.

The results are always flawed. The recent scandals with college admissions just bring home the flaws of universities, for instance. We should have a free, open, informed, and consequential discussion about how to improve them. But no discussion can occur outside of a viable forum that depends on an institution. We don’t spontaneously gather to discuss; the discussion always happens in a university or a school, an op-ed page of a privately-owned newspaper, Facebook, a union hall, a church basement, a party convention, the state legislature–somewhere that draws resources and assembles users.

These institutions then structure and limit the discussion. There is no view from nowhere, only a permanent struggle to discuss as wisely as we can in various forums. We don’t create these forums deliberatively; most of them arise as the result of accident, power, or leadership. Because they are all flawed and limited, it is essential to have many of them, with diverse forms, competing and checking one another.

This is a “civic” perspective because it emphasizes our ability to shape the world of discourse through artisanship. And it broadens our attention so that we consider not only the rules for speech within an institution (e.g., campus speech codes) but also–and usually more importantly–the underpinnings of the institution itself.

See also a civic approach to free speech; Sinclair and Bezos: media ownership and media bias; don’t let the behavioral revolution make you fatalistic; prospects for civic media after 2016; China teaches the value of political pluralism; polycentricity: the case for a (very) mixed economy.

Trump and Putin: the ideological angle

I think my working theory of Trump and the Russians (from June 2017) remains pretty consistent with what we now know. But the part of the story that has been mostly submerged concerns the ideological affinities between Trump and Putin and whether certain shared values have influenced their behavior.

Ideological affinities should not be legally investigated, litigated, or prosecuted. If Bernie Sanders wanted some assistance (other than cash) from European Social Democrats, he would be welcome to it. To view endorsements, exchanges of information, introductions, etc. as illegal campaign contributions would violate free speech rights. In reality, Sanders would be unlikely to seek European help, because American voters wouldn’t like that. But George W. Bush calculated that American voters would appreciate Tony Blair’s support for him. In all such cases, voters should observe, debate, and judge.

Regarding Trump and Putin, voters face two questions. One is whether these men have a real affinity and any kind of significant political alliance–not because that would be prosecutable, but because it would be important to understand and assess. The second question is the nature of their affinity. What values (if any) does it reflect, and what should we make of those values? (I leave aside financial ties, which might still be under investigation in the Southern District of New York and elsewhere. We should leave those matters to investigators with subpoena powers.)

One view would be that Trump and Putin share a white nationalist agenda. Casey Michel reports that “Richard Spencer, the current face (and haircut) of US’s alt-right, believes Russia is the ‘sole white power in the world.’ David Duke, meanwhile, believes Russia holds the ‘key to white survival.’ And as Matthew Heimbach, head of the white nationalist Traditionalist Worker Party, recently said, Russian president Vladimir Putin is the ‘leader of the free world’—one who has helped morph Russia into an ‘axis for nationalists.'”

This belief may not track reality. Stephen F. Cohen emphasizes that Putin “endlessly appeals for harmony in ‘our entire multi-ethnic nation’ with its ‘multi-ethnic culture.'” Those statements are arguably better than anything Trump has uttered about America. Russian nationalism of the Putin variety is probably better explained as a reaction to understandable grievances rather than a form of white supremacy. But the question is not whether Putin is a racist. The question is whether an American white supremacist would see him as an ally. The actual alt-right does, and Trump may have similar instincts. Both of Trump’s wives have been Slavic women, and I strongly suspect that he sees ethnic Russians as part of his own in-group, defined in contrast to Muslims and peoples of color.

Another view (mine, for what it’s worth) would be that Putin exemplifies a global tendency to concentrate power in charismatic macho male leaders who work closely with their security services and local billionaires, and who maintain popularity by demonstrating “strength” versus enemies, foreign and domestic. Then Putin is an example of a category that now covers more than half of the world’s population, starting with India’s Narendra Modi and China’s Xi Jinping. In this context, Trump is a wannabe. He has all the same instincts for crony capitalism, militant policing, resentment of outsiders, etc., but he’s not as smart, and he faces more domestic opposition.

A third view is that the real problem is global capitalism, undergirded by US hegemony. In that view, Putin is not high on the list of villains. In fact, he is a bit of a thorn in the side of US/NATO/EU power. The international partnerships that should evoke the most resistance are those within the G8 or Davos. Instead of being angry when Trump meets Putin privately, we should have objected to the bromance of Barack Obama and James Cameron.

These positions are separated by wide and deep gaps in values and worldviews. Ideally, the American people would consider them all and form a majority view. But I don’t expect this to happen, because it is in no one’s political interest to focus on the ideological questions concerning Trump and Russia. Democrats know that this is not a winning political issue for 2020, even if more people happen to agree than disagree with them about Putin. The issue also threatens inter-party harmony a bit. Republicans have principled reasons to oppose Putin but would then find themselves battling a Republican president on difficult terrain.

Lots of liberals have been hoping that the Trump/Putin relationship was felonious, which would shift the issue from politics to law. I suppose I was hoping that, but with some misgivings. For the record, I also opposed prosecuting Bush Administration figures like Scooter Libby, because I thought that was a way of criminalizing what should have been a political question. In a true democracy, we address even the most serious questions–matters of life and death at a mass scale–through open debate and elections, not by turning them over to lawyers. The end of the Mueller investigation is an opportunity for us to perform our civic responsibilities. Even if political leaders don’t especially want to discuss whether Trump and Putin share a worldview, that is the topic that deserves our attention.